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Apr 1, 2000 12:00 AM

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Paper is almost always the most expensive aspect of a web printing job," says Jack Hobby, vice president of marketing, Heidelberg Web Systems. It's no surprise, then, that printers are "extremely interested" in reducing waste, according to Hobby.

In this age of squeezed profit margins, waste reduction is key to achieving better financial gains. "Where they once printed a single run of 1 million copies of a catalog, printers might now print five or six versions of that catalog in runs of 200,000 to 300,000. The ability to reduce waste can make shorter runs more economically viable and therefore give web printing a competitive advantage over other media," explains Hobby. "Even a small reduction in paper waste as a percentage of overall output yields significant financial savings. That is money that printers can add directly to their bottom lines without adding additional business."

Yesteryear's high consumption has given way to millennial minimalism. According to Jim Giencke, president/COO, Arandell Corp. (Menomonee Falls, WI), the printing industry once threw away eight to nine truckloads of paper for every 100 that were delivered to a facility. That's since been reduced to about five truckloads, a move Giencke considers significant. Hobby says makeready waste on web presses in North America averages about 8 percent to 9 percent of total press output. Running waste measures an additional 5 percent to 6 percent.

Paper waste is dependent on many factors, unfortunately. These may include the complexity of the job, the printer's equipment, its condition and state of repair, and the number of unanticipated stops, says Roger Dickeson of consultancy PREM Associates (Tucson, AZ), and author of two books on waste reduction, "War on Waste I" and "War on Waste II."

How, then, can any printer expect to minimize paper waste to a consistent, negligible level? american printer consulted with a number of industry experts, who offer these tips to tackle waste.

1. Measure everything Without a measurement tool on press, says printCafe's (Hagen) Gerald Walsh, printers don't have an accurate estimate of how many impressions to run for a job. "If you don't have a direct machine interface into the press," he notes, "you end up running additional signatures to meet production goals or taking a chance you'll return to press to run extras because you're short on the job. It makes a huge impact on paper cost."

Hagen developed Oasis, a shop-floor information system with a direct machine interface into a web press that counts impressions on press and weighs spoilage to determine waste. Auto-Count, developed by Covalent and subsequently bought by Logic Associates (now part of printCafe), is another interface that measures good, gross and net impressions.

"If you can measure paper consumption, you can control it. And if you can control it, then you can improve it," declares Peter Doyle, operations manager, Action Printing (Fond du Lac, WI), a $15.5 million catalog, book and manual printer.

When Doyle began tackling paper waste six years ago, Action Printing was running two non-heatset web presses without any automated controls. Upon installing Auto-Count, Doyle found the printer was running at 20 percent waste. The company was subsequently able to justify the cost of automation because it could track its paper waste reduction. Its paper waste is now around 7 percent.

"I have come across printers who don't know what their levels of makeready and run waste are," observes Doyle. "With direct machine interfaces, you get exact data."

The operations manager then began charting the data from the presses. Each of the company's three web presses now has an accompanying chart, and the three shifts on each press are measured on their press performance. The company has relied on the data as the basis for its semimonthly press crew meetings. "Without data, a meeting may become more emotional because people shoot from the hip with their comments," Doyle says. "But if you come into a meeting with a chart and an Excel spreadsheet, it allows the staff to focus on the actual issues. The meetings are also more upbeat because you can see that you are improving."

Arandell uses its direct machine interface to log press stops, including the reason they occur, how often they happen and how many impressions makeready took on press restart. The data gave Arandell its yield per hour -by taking total hours of presses manned, subtracting the static portion of makeready and dividing it into the total number of impressions saved-and what its 100 most frequent stops on press were. That gave the company the basis for its waste program, which continually targets the top five press stops.

2. Buy press Technology Press manufacturers are doing their part in the mission to cut paper waste. "The quest to reduce paper has taken a number of approaches," comments Joe Abbott, director of technical support for MAN Roland. Some of those approaches have become features that come standard on certain models of today's web presses.

"gapless" blankets | Gapless blankets, available on Heidelberg M3000 presses, are cylindrical in shape, where the blanket material is bonded to a tube. Because they have no gap, the blankets account for 1/4 inch more printable area, according to Hobby. (For more on gapless, see "Web press wonders," May 1999, p. 46.)

Mitsubishi's (MLP U.S.A., Inc.) sleeved blanket technology, involves adhering a conventional flat blanket to a nickel sleeve. Before final grinding, the seam between the blanket ends is filled with a compressible material, producing a sleeved blanket with a compressible seam that is less than 1/16 inch, according to George Sanchez, director of sales/marketing, web offset presses. The resultant nonprint area is equal to the narrow gap in Mitsubishi's plate cylinder design.

"Because the blanket seam is maintained within the narrow plate gap throughout the press run, the printer can maximize image length without experiencing image migration," explains Sanchez. "This resultant relationship enables the reduction in the cutoff of the press." Theoretically, smaller cutoffs would translate to more signatures being printed on a roll.

*pinless folders According to Hobby, pinless folders reduce the area necessary for the folder to grip the signatures-thereby maximizing the printable paper area. "Folders with pins require a larger non-print area for the pins to grip the signature. This translates to running waste that is cut off at the trimmer," he explains.

*shaftless drives The electronically controlled, independent drives for each press component increase tension control and reduce web breaks, according to Hobby.

*automated ink key presets Despite all this available technology, which MAN Roland also features on its equipment, Abbott still believes that the technology most successful in reducing paper waste is the electronic ink key presets in combination with semiautomatic plate changers. The reason: It's a more conventional combination of technology than sleeve blankets and therefore easier for printers to find appropriately trained operators.

MAN Roland plans to introduce changes in the inkers at Drupa that will allow a makeready at 1,000 impressions. Abbott says MAN's technology will download data on the next job through CIP3 and preset the appropriate ink key profile for that job. It will then force color to the desired density level through overinking and use of a control algorithm.

Komori America will unveil its own waste-reducing technology at Drupa-the Komori High Performance Inking System (KHS). Adopted from technology originally developed for the company's sheetfed presses, the system slows down the press at job's end and automatically resets ink keys to a known starting position for the next job. Komori technical director Terry Bradley says the ink key profiles would be entered via a CIP3 interface or via computer-to-plate information obtained by plate scanning.

"Because the press would be starting up again from a known ink film thickness on the rolls, the press comes to density much more quickly than by traditional methods," Bradley explains.

Bradley reports that the KHS software will allow a web press to come to color in a few hundred sheets-ideal for short-run jobs, on which he says Komori is focusing on. PREM Associate's Dickeson points out that the prime cause of press waste for short-run printers is the basic makeready.

Whether that color level is acceptable for customers is another story, however. Bradley acknowledges that even with KHS, printers may have to go through a "makeready B" to get a color OK from the customer.

The crux of this technology, though, is that "we're preparing the press to go into a known situation before you load the next job," the Komori exec explains. "If you're running one job that has very heavy ink coverage, for example, you can create a lot of waste on the next job unless you go through this type of de-inking process. If the next job requires only light coverage, you have to run off all that ink with only the ink key settings to aid you."

3. Embrace color management According to Sanchez, closed-loop color systems were originally developed to be a tool for when the press is in the running mode, once color was established. "The system would maintain the ink and water balance during a press run, so there would be less color variation, more acceptable product and less waste throughout the run," he explains. "But during makeready mode, it's resulted in a second benefit by enhancing the operator's ability to set ink and water balance. The parameters of density requirements are fed into the closed-loop color systems, thereby helping the press operator set color faster as compared to a manual operation."

Bill Hoffman, vice president of manufacturing at Berlin Industries (Carol Stream, IL), believes closed-loop color control is the best web technology to come out in the past decade. For this direct-mail printer, which boasts 1,000 employees across four facilities and 14 web presses (in addition to some sheetfed), closed-loop color has made a 1.3 percent difference on waste.

"Closed-loop color brings the press up to color faster without a press operator having to interact with the press," Hoffman explains. "Many times, color is guessed. This way, the press operator cuts down the ink flow to industry standards and adjusts the color from there. Customers have learned to look at the density numbers also, which leads to a very precise conversation."

At Quebecor World, closed-loop color has made an even more significant impact on waste. The Taunton, MA, facility operates eight web presses and prints coffee table books and cookbooks as well as college and reference books. Here, implementing a closed-loop color control system has meant a 10 percent reduction in waste, according to manufacturing manager Bob Reed. "It has allowed us to tie analog and digital data to presets on the press. It's really taken all the guesswork out of startup," he says.

Closed-loop automatic color control systems are available from WPC, QTI, Graphic Microsystems and others. "It's the next major press option that's going to be standard," predicts PrintCom Consulting's Bill Lamparter.

4. Create a culture of waste consciousness The available technology certainly helps reduce waste a great deal. But there's only so much press manufacturers and auxiliary control vendors can do, says Sanchez. For paper waste controls to provide optimum benefits, he emphasizes management must provide incentives and budgets for standardized, continuous press crew training.

Hobby concurs. "The printers that have had the most success in driving waste out of the system are the ones that have embraced advanced technology in combination with programs to train employees, and to continuously measure and control process variables."

How to do this? Printers such as Arandell and Action Printing have implemented systematic waste programs. Arandell's began in 1986, after a period of rapid growth increased sales from $20 million to more than $100 million in about five years, doubled the presses, increased the company's number of employees and increased waste as a result.

In meetings with press crews, management discussed why presses stopped during operation and the factors that contributed to waste. Press operator brainstorming groups every other week uncovered ways to attack waste. According to Giencke, the company then took these ideas, quantified them by describing each waste or press stop and their believed causes, and assigned an executive to work with each team to mitigate the source of waste. The program created about 150 separate waste management projects.

"Over the years, we've had less periodic meetings, and now we're in a maintenance type situation," Giencke explains. "We are still looking for ideas to cut waste. We publish reports on a weekly and monthly basis that show each one of our six web presses as processing lines and quantify how long each press runs between stops, how long the stops are, which are the most frequent and which cost the most money."

In some cases, even discussing the idea of saving paper has a positive effect on employees. "In the simplest form, our waste program is based on the notion that the most precious commodity the customer has is paper," explains Reed of Quebecor World. "We explain that to employees and that our level of paper consumption may make a difference of getting a job in this plant. Everybody wants to grow, have a successful plant and please the customer. That's how our employees buy in to the idea of reducing waste. They know the lower the waste is, the greater our chance is of getting new titles in here."

At Action Printing, Doyle attaches a price tag to illustrate the issue. According to Doyle, 1 percent of paper waste at the facility equals about $3,400 per month in paper, not including time or ink. "If we're able to reduce makeready waste from 8 percent to 5 percent, the employees can calculate that the 3 percent difference is worth about $10,000. They can tie it into a meaningful value," he says.

5. Buy on quality, not on price No, being waste-conscious does not necessarily mean being price-conscious. Using good materials on press can result in lower waste, printers agree.

"Some managers think they are heroes by saving $10,000 in ink cost, but they don't realize they now have a percent more paper waste and less satisfied press crews," declares Doyle. "And the bottom line is the company makes less money."

Action Printing no longer enters into purchasing discussions with suppliers on price only, Doyle says. The company instead evaluates the ink, "and we look at the price later and see if the product wows us enough to buy it."

Doyle says non-heatset ink suppliers have particularly faced pressure to reduce ink costs and have ended up taking materials out of the ink to accommodate the demand for lower prices. "We are not worried about the price. We want something to come up to color faster and lead to less waste," he says.

6. Consider other plates For certain applications, it may make sense to explore different plate options. PDI's bimetal plates are marketed primarily to large heatset web printers, who "face the greatest problems with dot gain issues, warped plates and so on," according to a spokesperson. The copper plates carry ink better than polymer coating, he adds. They therefore require less ink usage than standard plates, resulting in faster color realization and fewer web breaks.

"It's hard to achieve good ink and water balance on less expensive plates," reports Doyle. When Action Printing began its waste program, it justified switching to more expensive plates based on paper waste reduction. "We were running less expensive plates but were having a lot of problems with it," he reports.

7. Examine your ink Not only does the quality of your ink matter to paper waste, in some cases the ink tack matters as well, according to Berlin Industries' Hoffman. Berlin purchases about half of its paper, and the other half is supplied by customers for their jobs. The exec has found that on some sheets, the standard tack of ink has pulled the sheet apart on press. "We use a lower tack to print about 12 percent of our jobs," he explains.

8. Examine your paper Web breaks can also occur because of defects inherent to the paper roll, says Mitsubishi's Sanchez. "Baggy webs, edge tears and oil spots are examples of defects that can be created during the manufacturing of paper," he explains.

The greatest paper waste results when a press goes down while running a job, according to Bill Fizzell, manager of quality services at paper manufacturer Champion International-which means that purchasing paper based on certain characteristics can help reduce this potential. Some papers are known for runnability and will result in fewer web breaks, he notes.

"Whether it's our company or another manufacturer, the runnability issue is important," a Domtar spokesperson agrees. "You need to buy paper that's known for running well. You're better off buying a brand name paper than something cheaper."

Berlin, for one, has qualified certain vendors to supply its papers and has eliminated certain papers that have posed problems on press. And even though most mills document their runnability by grade and basis weights, Fizzell recommends that printers keep their own documentation on paper performance. "This performance library will guide purchasing decisions and impact the paper the printer recommends," he explains.

Certain paper characteristics -such as smoothness, shade and absorbency-reduce waste by allowing the job to get up to color more quickly, Fizzell says. He adds that smoothness provides better dot-for-dot color reproduction, white shades will eliminate printers having to deal with color registration to compensate for colors being off, and coated paper absorbs less ink and water than uncoated paper.

Fizzell suggests these other tactics to minimize paper waste: *When possible, run rolls by position to reduce waste created by variation and press adjustment. Hoffman says Berlin tends to purchase and use 50-inch rolls, because they have more paper than the 40-inch rolls and press operators don't have to change rolls as often. *Train operators on different paper characteristics and printing requirements. *Review the press's paper diet, such as whether you're running coated or uncoated, freesheet or groundwood paper. "The longer and more often a press can run the same grade, the lower the waste factors from start-ups, achieving color and OKs," Fizzell explains. *Keep rolls or skids wrapped to avoid damage and distortion.

9. Trim paper carefully Make sure you're not heedlessly trimming rolls. As Doyle observes, "It doesn't take many slabs before you've consumed a big part of your roll."

Quebecor World's Reed says four years ago, the roll tender would slab off the paper without first examining the roll. The waste that resulted averaged 18 pounds per roll, plus or minus 2 pounds.

"In a year, we were throwing away enough paper to go from Boston to Cleveland and back," Reed says. "Today, we have it down to a pound and a half of slab waste, plus or minus half a pound-and that includes transit damage and hoist damage as the roll is delivered to the press."

10. Compare and share Whether following formal benchmarking procedures or making informal comparisons, it does help to see how you're doing against the rest of the industry and yourself. Numbers are available from a couple of sources. The Web Offset Assn. publishes waste and spoilage statistics in its 1999-2000 View of the Past, Present & Future, formerly Market Outlook. Call (703) 529-8156 to order. Dickeson, too, has been publishing a monthly database of web printing waste on his website,, for nine years.

Action Printing conducts both internal and external comparisons. It charts press and shift performance, with emphasis being placed on how each press' waste measurements compare to industry averages. Then, management compares how each shift performs against other shifts.

Such sharing of data resulted in the rewriting of job descriptions at the Wisconsin printer. The company recorded what activities each person on the press crew was responsible for, and in what order the activities were performed.

Along the same lines, management at Quebecor World in Taunton developed best practices for its press crews. "It has allowed us to attack waste and produce high-quality products," claims Reed. "Management met with all three shifts and found that every shift had certain specialties and skills that were better than the other shifts, but no one shift had a combination of all the best practices. We borrowed bits and pieces from what each shift did, wrote down procedures and trained across all the shifts.

"Everyone wants to do a good job. Paper waste reduction really comes down to laying down good visuals and communicating with the press crews."